- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2018

President Trump’s new budget alone isn’t enough to keep federal deficits from getting out of hand, Republican senators said Tuesday, challenging the White House to find more savings.

Mr. Trump’s 2019 budget never gets to balance in the 10-year fiscal window, breaking long-standing GOP promises to show the path to fiscal discipline.

Senators challenged White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney on that point Tuesday, as he tried to defend the blueprint to the Senate Budget Committee.

“It doesn’t feel to me that we’re heading in a hopeful direction as it relates to solving our nation’s deficits,” said Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican. “I know you were a strong proponent of balanced budgets when you were in the House, and now you’re in this position, and we as a nation as you know are on an unsustainable path.”

Mr. Mulvaney acknowledged that the plan, which calls for $4.38 trillion in spending next year, leaves big deficits, but he said they would have been even worse without some $3 trillion in cuts over the next decade that Mr. Trump suggested.

He said he warned Congress last year that both sides needed to reduce spending. Instead, Congress and Mr. Trump just agreed to a massive two-year boost in discretionary spending, following on similarly massive tax cuts last year.

“And I said at that time that if Congress did not take steps last year, and the administration did not take steps last year, to change the trajectory of our spending that I would not be able to balance the budget within 10 years this year, and that has been the case,” Mr. Mulvaney said.

The president’s budget projects a reduction in Medicare spending by some $500 billion over a decade. But much of the savings are supposed to come from changing prescription-drug benefits and cutting down on waste.

Mr. Mulvaney said they’re not changing services for current recipients.

Democrats said even those cuts were too draconian, objecting to limiting social safety net spending even as the Pentagon is about to get a windfall.

“This is not a budget, as candidate Donald Trump talked about, that takes on the political establishment. This is a budget of the political establishment. This is the Robin Hood principle in reverse,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, the ranking member on the committee.

Mr. Trump has asked for $716 billion for the Defense Department for next year — an increase of 13 percent over 2017. That comes on top of the $700 billion Congress and Mr. Trump just agreed to for 2018.

“The plus-up is so large that you could have a situation where people are just rushing to get contracts out the door to take advantage of the monies that are available,” Mr. Corker said.

Sen. David Perdue, Georgia Republican, said about three-quarters of the federal government’s $4 trillion budget is spending on entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security, whose costs rise automatically as the population ages.

Mr. Trump has ruled out changes to Social Security, leaving lawmakers wondering where they’re going to find space for any cuts in government spending.

Mr. Mulvaney said deficits aren’t always a bad thing. He said the GOP is counting on last year’s $1.5 trillion tax cut to push the economy to an even faster expansion, which he said can help close the fiscal gap.

“The big picture writ large is you have to figure out a way to grow your economy faster than you’re growing your government,” he said.

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